Welcome to this moment in time, this tipping point, this fulcrum of social change.
This is the kairos moment for a change in the way in which American culture views guns. There is a growing intolerance of gun violence and a recognition that organizations like the National Rifle Association have contributed to the glorification of violence.
Thanks to the fearless testimony of the young people of Parkland, Florida, the change has already begun.
As a Christian, I always start with the witness of Scripture as the place from which I view social injustice. Two passages have been determinative of my understanding of God’s perspective on weapons. The first is from Isaiah, a prophetic writing in Hebrew Scripture; the prophet looks forward to a future time when Jerusalem will be the center of God’s activity in the world and serve as the model of shalom:
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah 2:4 (Common English Bible)
It’s clear to me that God’s design for humanity is that we should not bother with learning war. That is the goal, the end of Christian hope.
And in the New Testament, we have Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7. Here Jesus lays down his ultimate challenge:
You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:43-45 (Common English Bible)
Jesus then went out and promptly lived out this commandment. From the garden, where he was being arrested, Jesus forbade his disciples from taking up the sword to protect him. From the cross, he publicly forgave his crucifiers.
These Scriptures are crucial for my self-understanding as a follower of Jesus; they define me, and they align me with a community of people who are committed to this same Jesus.
As a United Methodist pastor, I also look to the wisdom of my faith tradition. John Wesley was not a pacifist, but he did view war as the ultimate illustration and evidence of original sin. But over the years, faithful Methodists have begun to discern that, at the very least, the American love affair with guns was antithetical to the gospel.
In the 2016 General Conference, the body approved a resolution on gun violence. Granted, United Methodist resolutions don’t have the force of law; most rank-and-file church members have no idea that such resolutions exist. One could argue that these resolutions aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, and maybe that is true.
However, I would suggest that UM resolutions are good guidelines for congregational action; they are the fruit of serious reflection and consideration, sometimes by those who work for the denomination’s general boards and agencies.
Resolution 3428, “Our Call to End Gun Violence,” was approved by a vote of 56-5 in committee (with four abstentions), and then adopted on a consent calendar by a vote of 756-24. This means that the resolution was one of the least contentious at the entire conference. It was also quite specific in its call to action. Here are the bullet points for what it recommends concerning advocacy:
- Universal background checks on all gun purchases
- Ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty
- Ensuring all guns are sold through licensed gun retailers
- Prohibiting all individuals convicted of violent crimes from purchasing a gun for a fixed time period
- Prohibiting all individuals under restraining order due to threat of violence from purchasing a gun
- Prohibiting persons with serious mental illness, who pose a danger to themselves and their communities, from purchasing a gun
- Ensuring greater access to services for those suffering from mental illness
- Establishing a minimum age of 21 years for a gun purchase or possession
- Banning large-capacity ammunition magazines and weapons designed to fire multiple rounds each time the trigger is pulled
- Promoting new technologies to aid law-enforcement agencies to trace crime guns and promote public safety.
Fortunately, a consensus is coalescing around most of these points, but now is the time to press Congress on these issues.
Finally, as a citizen of Dallas, Texas, I am greatly concerned about the coming National Rifle Association Convention. On May 3-6, the NRA will be gathering at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas. Their presence is not welcomed; they represent the very worst of gun culture and violence. Their money has unduly influenced politicians; their positions don’t even necessarily represent those held by the majority of their members.
As a Christian, a United Methodist, and a Dallas citizen, I call upon my neighbors to do everything possible to resist the message that the NRA represents. This world needs less guns, not more.